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Sinyavin offensive/Operation Nordlicht
Part of the Eastern Front of World War II
Volkhov Front Road.JPG
A typical road for vehicles on the Volkhov Front.
Date August 19 – October 10, 1942
Location Southern shore of Lake Ladoga , near present-day Saint Petersburg, Russia
Result Indecisive. Soviet offensive defeated, German offensive cancelled.
Strategic Soviet success.
Nazi Germany Germany
 Soviet Union
Nazi Germany Erich von Manstein Soviet Union Kirill Meretskov
18th Army
Reinforced by 11th Army[1]
2nd Shock Army
8th Army
Elements of Leningrad Front
Total 190,000 men
Casualties and losses
40,085 dead and missing
(including 12,000 captured)
73,589 wounded [2]

Operation Northern Light (German: Unternehmen Nordlicht) and the Sinyavin Offensive refer to two near simultaneous military operations by planned by respectively Germany and the Soviet Union to end Siege of Leningrad. The German intention was to capture the city, while the Soviet intention was to break the blockade. Both sides were unaware of the other's preparations, and this made the battle to turn out in a way that was not anticipated. The Soviet offensive began first, on August 19, prompting the German side to use the forces built up for their own offensive to be used to halt and than to counterattack the Soviet forces. In the end, the Soviet offensive failed, but caused the German one to be delayed and eventually cancelled.



The Siege of Leningrad started in early autumn 1941. By September 8, 1941 German forces had largely surrounded the city, cutting off all supply routes to Leningrad and its suburbs. However the original drive on the city failed and the city was subjected to a siege. During the winter 1941–42, the city was supplied via the Road of Life over the frozen Lake Ladoga, which allowed the the defenders to continue holding out.[1] However the Siege of Sevastopol ended of on July 4, 1942 with the German capture of the city. The German 11th Army was now free to be used elsewhere, and it was decided by Hitler, the 11th Army would be used in the assault on Leningrad.[3]

The Soviet forces were trying to lift the siege to which was causing colossal damage to the city and very large loss of life for civilian population. The Road of Life was insufficient to supply the large city and the troops there, and was within range of German artillery. Several smaller offensives were launched in 1942 in the region, but failed. The last offensive near Lyuban resulted in the the encirclement and destruction of most of the Soviet 2nd Shock Army.[4] Nevertheless, the opening of a supply route to Leningrad was so important that the preparations for the new operation began almost immediately after the defeat at Lyuban.[5]


The area south of Ladoga is heavily forested area with many wetlands (notably peat deposits) found closer to the lake. Both of these factors much hindered the mobility of artillery, and vehicles in the area. In addition the forest shielded both sides from visual observation. One of the key locations were the Sinyavin heights, which were one of the few dry and clear areas, and in addition provided good observation.[6]


German Plans

The plan to capture Leningrad in summer-autumn 1942 is first found in the OKW directive 41 of April 5, 1942. The directive stresses that the capture of Leningrad and the drive to Caucasus in the east are the main objectives in the summer campaign on the Eastern Front.[7] The attack was to be carried out by the forces of the 11th Army supported the 8th Air Corps, and the heavy artillery,[8] which were free to be used elsewhere after the capture of Sevastopol.[9] This would in turn free up the troops involved in the siege for use elsewhere and would make victory on the Eastern Front more likely. Meanwhile, the Germans were also preparing for the Battle of Stalingrad. The 11th Army had a total of 12 divisions under command in the Leningrad area.[10]

Anti-aircraft gun beside cathedral in Leningrad in 1941.

Soviet Plans

The Soviet Union has tried throughout 1942 to lift the siege. While both the winter offensives and the Lyuban offensive operation failed to break the siege of the city, there was now a part of the front where only 16 kilometres (9.9 mi) separated the the Leningrad Front in the city and the Volkhov Front.[11] The offensive was to link up the forces of the two fronts and establish a supply route to Leningrad. Because of supply problems to Leningrad, the Volkhov was to carry out the offensive with the Leningrad Front supporting it. The 8th Army was to spearhead the attack with the reforming 2nd Strike Army in second echelon. Between these echelons was the 4th Corps.[12] In contrast with the earlier operations, the Soviet troops which were very well equipped for the offensive in the heavily forested area with many small lakes and wetlands. The troops had attached engineering units to improve their transport capacity, as well as large numbers of PPD-40 and PPSh-41 submachine guns.[13]


Soviet offensive, Early Phases, August 19–26

Neither side was aware of the others intentions to launch an offensive and were not aware of the build-up of forces in the region. The Germans only realized that the Soviet action was a major offensive in the following days after the start of the offensive by the 8th Army on August 27. This resulted in the 11th Army and the 8th Air Corps being reassigned to deal with the crisis and abandon preparations for the offensive on Leningrad.[14] Likewise The Soviet forces were unaware of the redeployment of the 11th Army to Leningrad and only expected to face ten divisions of the 18th Army. The redeployment of forces from Crimea was not detected. This meant that the Soviet forces were launching an offensive when at a numerical disadvantage even before the battle started.[15]

Ultimately the Soviet operation started before the German one, on August 19, although German sources give later dates.[16][9] This is because the offensive by the Volkhov Front did not begin until August 27. The German operation was due to begin on August 23, but the redeployment of the 11th Army was slower than expected and the operation was delayed until September 14.[17] The Leningrad Front launched its offensive on August 19, however due to the limited supplies and manpower, the front was only to capture and expand bridgeheads across the Neva River, that would help it to link up with the Volkhov Front.[18] The German side did not see this as a major offensive. In fact, German sources hardly mention this phase, and no additional defensive measures were taken.[19]

Soviet offensive continues, August 27 – September 9

The Volkhov Front offensive started on the morning of August 27. The hidden buildup of forces allowed the Soviet forces to enjoy a significant superiority in on the first day of the offensive in manpower, tanks and artillery. However, the Germans still possessed air superiority.[20] The 8th Army had initial success advancing and scattering the first line of German defenses such as the 223rd Inf. Division, but advance was slowing as German reinforcements were arriving.[9] On August 29, the breach in the German defenses was up to 7 kilometres (4.3 mi) deep. On September 5 it had increased to 9 kilometres (5.6 mi), after which no more ground was gained. To try to break the stalemate, the second echelon troops (2nd Strike Army) were used, but German flanking counterattacks forced them halt the offensive. On September 7, the Volkhov front pulled back two divisions from the 8th Army and replaced them with a fresh division and a tank brigade to achieve further advance.[21]

Stalemate, September 10–19

The battle turned into a stalemate with neither side gaining any ground despite several attempts to renew the offensive. Between September 10–19 there was no change in the frontline. The Soviet side was waiting for reinforcements and air support, hoping to advance the 7 kilometres (4.3 mi) that separated it from the Leningrad Front in the next few weeks, but reinforcements would not arrive until after the German counteroffensive.[11] The early German counteroffensives failed due to lack of forces, so the decisive counteroffensive could not begin until September 20.[22] The presence of the 11th Army allowed the German side to build up forces faster than the Soviet side.

German counter-offensive, September 20 – October 10

As the German Command realized that the the 18th Army could not hold the Soviet offensive, divisions from the newly arrived 11th Army were deployed to assist, immediately delaying any offensive on Leningrad. The 170th Inf. Division from the 11th Army had to join the battle as early as August 28, the same day it arrived in the area.[9] On the September 4, Erich von Manstein was placed in command of almost all of the 18th Army as well as the 11th Army that he was already commanding to "[p]revent a catastrophe".[23] After halting the Soviet offensive with fresh troops from the 11th Army, the German Army launched the counteroffensive on September 20 with the intent to cut off the bulge formed by the Soviet offensive. The 30th Corps was attacking from the south, while the 36th Corps was attacking from the north. The counteroffensive was supported by the 8th Air Corps.[9]

The counterattacking German were facing the same problems as the Soviet forces. Advance in difficult terrain overcoming the defensive positions was very slow and casualties were high.[9] Only on September 25, after five days of very heavy fighting, parts of the soviet forces were encircled. After defeating Soviet attempts to relieve or break out of the pocket, it it was finally reduced on October 2, after several days heavy artillery bombardment which was due to be used in the offensive on Leningrad.[1] At the same time the 28th Light Infantry and the 12th Panzer divisions defeated the attempts of the Leningrad Front to expand their bridgeheads.

Notably, the counteroffensive saw was the first limited deployment of the Tiger tank, though with little success, due to mechanical failures. One Tiger was captured and evacuated by the Soviet forces.[24]


For the Soviet Union this operation was a costly failure, but after only three months the Soviet forces would launch a new offensive, Operation Iskra. That offensive would open a corridor to Leningrad in January 1943. The Germans were also unable to destroy the Soviet armies like at Uman.

For the Germans, the effects were bigger. Although the Soviet threat was eliminated and the position of the the 18th Army reestablished, the 11th Army has suffered serious losses in men, equipment and ammunition. The 18th Army also suffered losses, especially the 223rd Infantry Division, was opposing the 8th Army on the first day of its offensive.[9] In those conditions an immediate offensive on Leningrad was out of question.[25] With the onset of autumn rains, the offensive on Leningrad had to be further delayed. And, with the Soviet counter offensive at Stalingrad, Manstein and the 11th Army were redeployed to relieve the German 6th Army there. The planned offensive on Leningrad would never happen.[26]

The order of battle



  • 8th Army
    • 6th Guards Corps
      • 128th Rifle Division
      • 3rd Guards Rifle Division
      • 19th Guards Rifle Division [27]
      • 24th Guards Rifle Division [27]
      • 191st Rifle Division [28]
      • 122nd Tank Brigade [28]
    • 4th Guards Rifle Corps
  • 2nd Shock Army
      • 12th Rifle Division
      • 6th Rifle Brigade
      • 4th Tank Brigade


  1. ^ a b c Manstein p. 262
  2. ^ Krivosheev Study
  3. ^ Manstein p. 260
  4. ^ Isayev p. 134
  5. ^ Meretskov p. 299
  6. ^ Meretskov p. 300
  7. ^ Isayev p. 132
  8. ^ Manstein p. 262
  9. ^ a b c d e f g Haupt W. Army Group North. The Wehrmacht in Russia 1941–1945
  10. ^ Manstein p. 262
  11. ^ a b Meretskov p. 299
  12. ^ Meretskov p. 302
  13. ^ Isayev p. 135
  14. ^ Manstein p. 265
  15. ^ Meretskov pp. 301–302
  16. ^ Manstein pp. 264–265
  17. ^ Haupt
  18. ^ Isayev p. 135
  19. ^ Haupt
  20. ^ Meretskov pp. 307–308
  21. ^ Isayev p. 139
  22. ^ Manstein p. 266
  23. ^ Manstein p. 265
  24. ^ Panzerkampfwagen VI Tiger Ausf. E Sd. Kfz. 181
  25. ^ Manstein p. 267
  26. ^ Manstein p. 272
  27. ^ a b Until September 6. Isayev p. 139
  28. ^ a b From September 7. Isayev p. 139



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